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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise on the Merits and Forgiveness...: Chapter 60

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 60 [XXXI.]—Christ, the Head and the Body; Owing to the Union of the Natures in the Person of Christ, He Both Remained in Heaven, and Walked About on Earth; How the One Christ Could Ascend to Heaven; The Head, and the Body, the One Christ.

Now when Nicodemus understood not what was being told him, he inquired of the Lord how such things could be. Let us look at what the Lord said to him in answer to his inquiry; for of course, as He deigns to answer the question, How can these things be? He will in fact tell us how spiritual regeneration can come to a man who springs from carnal generation. After noticing briefly the ignorance of one who assumed a superiority over others as a teacher, and having blamed the unbelief of all such, for not p. 39 accepting His witness to the truth, He went on to inquire and wonder whether, as He had told them about earthly things and they had not believed they would believe heavenly things. He nevertheless pursues the subject, and gives an answer such as others should believe—though these refuse—to the question that he was asked, How these things can be? “No man,” says He, “hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” 420 Thus, He says, shall come the spiritual birth,—men, from being earthly, shall become heavenly; and this they can only obtain by being made members of me; so that he may ascend who descended, since no one ascends who did not descend. All, therefore, who have to be changed and raised must meet together in a union with Christ, so that the Christ who descended may ascend, reckoning His body (that is to say, His Church) as nothing else than Himself, because it is of Christ and the Church that this is most truly understood: “And they twain shall be one flesh;” 421 concerning which very subject He expressly said Himself, “So then they are no more twain, but one flesh.” 422 To ascend, therefore, they would be wholly unable, since “no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” 423 For although it was on earth that He was made the Son of man, yet He did not deem it unworthy of that divinity, in which, although remaining in heaven, He came down to earth, to designate it by the name of the Son of man, as He dignified His flesh with the name of Son of God: that they might not be regarded as if they were two Christs,—the one God, the other man, 424 —but one and the same God and man,—God, because “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;” 425 and man, inasmuch as “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” 426 By this means—by the difference between His divinity and His humiliation—He remained in heaven as Son of God, and as Son of man walked on earth; whilst, by that unity of His person which made His two natures one Christ, He both walked as Son of God on earth, and at the same time as the very Son of man remained in heaven. Faith, therefore, in more credible things arises from the belief of such things as are more incredible. For if His divine nature, though a far more distant object, and more sublime in its incomparable diversity, had ability so to take upon itself the nature of man on our account as to become one Person, and whilst appearing as Son of man on earth in the weakness of the flesh, was able to remain all the while in heaven in the divinity which partook of the flesh, how much easier for our faith is it to suppose that other men, who are His faithful saints, become one Christ with the Man Christ, so that, when all ascend by His grace and fellowship, the one Christ Himself ascends to heaven who came down from heaven? It is in this sense that the apostle says, “As we have many members in one body, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body, so likewise is Christ.” 427 He did not say, “So also is Christ’s”—meaning Christ’s body, or Christ’s members—but his words are, “So likewise is Christ,” thus calling the head and body one Christ.



John iii. 13.


Gen. ii. 24.


Mark x. 8.


John iii. 13.


This was the error which was subsequently condemned in the heresy of Nestorius.


John i. 1.


John 1. 14.


1 Cor. xii. 12.

Next: Chapter 61

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